Growing up in the New Jersey suburbs, Kirk DeMicco was a "Hanna-Barbera kid," he says of the studio behind Saturday-morning cartoons like The Flintstones and Scooby-Doo. "I loved that stuff." Hanna-Barbera led to classic Disney movies of the '80s and the animation stylings of Terry Gilliam, which led to a lifelong love of the medium. "It's the idea that you can do different stuff," he says. "It's that ability to transport audiences."
DeMicco's directorial debut was 2008's Space Chimps, an animated adventure about chimpanzees in outer space. His second film, 2013's The Croods, which he wrote and directed with Chris Sanders, received an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature Film.
Instead of helming The Croods: A New Age, DeMicco instead directed Vivo, an animated musical about a singing kinkajou featuring original songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda. Vivo was Netflix's highest viewed film during the month of its release, yet for his follow-up, the filmmaker once again opted for something original: Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken, a coming-of-age movie about a 16-year-old girl who discovers she's a kraken warrior and must defend the surface world from evil mermaids.
"I love working with the artists in animation and, day by day, we're finding the story," DeMicco muses. "There's really no one that can come in and say, 'Well, Ruby wouldn't do that.' Or, 'I'm sorry, but Grandmamah doesn't swim sideways.' What's really fun is that you get to use all the imaginations at the studio and bring them together and discover it along the way."
Below, DeMicco shares with A.frame the five films that have most influenced him — all of which are true originals. "The experience of discovering new stuff in a theater is something I still look for."
Written and Directed by: John Hughes
I was in high school, and I remember seeing that movie. There was a spirit of rebelliousness. But, at the same time, it was the rebel that I understood because I was a suburban kid. I'd never seen that in a movie before. It had something fresh. I guess it was probably the closest thing to an indie film, you know what I mean? Like a studio indie. It just felt outside. It was about characters. They weren't saving the library. They weren't saving the town. So, that part of it really appealed to me. At that point in my life, it was speaking to where I was.
Directed by: Steven Spielberg | Written by: Melissa Mathison
I remember being a kid watching that, and I swear, I think that I went to see it only because I liked a girl who was maybe going with her mom or something. And then, I remember being so emotionally swept away that I couldn't shake it. There are moments in there that I still think about. I think the truth of it is that I was around a lot of people getting divorced at that time, and I think the ballast of that part of the story against the fantasy is what hit me the most. I always look for that emotional ballast in the family part of the stories, against the fantasy. The way that family was portrayed, and the brother especially, and the love and the care when they all pull together, that really hit me.
Written and Directed by: Hayao Miyazaki
I know I'm not being super wildly original with that one. But it's a classic. It was eerie, and I loved that about it. It's amusing. There is something to it that played different parts of the keyboard than any animated movie I'd ever seen before, and it just affected me differently. I was already working in the film business and, to be honest, I had been working in animation. The studio was doing traditional stuff, but I was always like, 'Is that all you do?' So that, I think, it opened me up. That's when it really hit me, that this was a much bigger tool. The tools at my disposal in animation were much greater than I had ever dreamt of.
Directed by: Michael Curtiz | Written by: Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch
That's one of the films that I watched with my dad. He loved that movie. My dad is an engineer, and his whole thing is structure. So, that movie is perfectly structured, in his mind. That was a part of it. The thing that really struck me is, I always remember the flashback from Paris. I remember that so distinctly, the effect of that. It was in a different space in the cinema language, and I felt like I was with them.
Directed by: Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones | Written by: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin
Monty Python and the Holy Grail was another one that my dad was a huge fan of, and I remember watching that movie and I was like, 'Whoa, this is so cool! This is so different!' That was the whole point of it. That sense of comedy is something I love. I don't think I knew it then, but it was the written word. Because they were all writers who became performers because they couldn't hire actors. And later on, seeing Spamalot and seeing the growth of it. And then, I got to write two scripts with John Cleese — one of them actually became The Croods — I just really understood that a lot of my love of comedy comes from their body of work.